All in one place, a generation lost in space

All those variable stars with the funny light curves? Aliens. It’s aliens.

When humans travel to the stars, we expect it to take a long, long time to get there.  One science fiction solution to the problem of the journey outlasting a lifetime is to have the ship’s crew do what humans do so well, be fruitful and multiply.  But how do the expedition members stick with the program, generation after generation, especially for those “middle children” who neither start nor finish the mission?  Marina Lostetter’s debut novel, Noumenon, gave us some answers, and the Beamers shot back with questions of our own. Continue reading


One whom the dragons spoke with

Ursula K. Le Guin, grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy, has died, age 88, at her home in Portland, Oregon.  Ms. Le Guin wrote major works of speculative fiction that explored gender, politics, the survival of persecuted beliefs, the Jungian shadow-self.  And dragons.

Ursula Le Guin, completely at home, 2015.
Photo credit: William Anthony, Portland Monthly

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What happens in Dallas never stays in Dallas

For the beginning of a new year, the Beamers went back to a very fateful old year, following a Maine English teacher with a nostalgic love for the America of the ’50s and its president of the ’60s as detailed in Stephen King’s 11/22/63.  Did the Beamers discover that root beer really did taste better back then?  Or was the haze of those days much more smokestack soot than young puppy love?

Did he or didn’t he? The jacket design cleverly covers all bases on JFK’s trip to Dealey Plaza.

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The King is mightier with the PEN

Stephen King, a Beamer favorite and this month’s author (11/22/63 being the January Beamer selection), has been awarded the PEN America Literary Service Award for his contributions in opposing oppression and championing the best in humanity through his prose, his philanthropy, and his public support for freedom of expression on any and all topics.  In 2016, the Service Award was given to J. K. Rowling.

Stephen King portrait

Mr. King, winner of the PEN(nywise) Award, ready to serve the cause of unsettling the reader. Portrait credit:

Announcing the award for Mr. King, Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America, said:

Stephen has fearlessly used his bully pulpit as one of our country’s best-loved writers to speak out about the mounting threats to free expression and democracy that are endemic to our times. His vivid storytelling reaches across boundaries to captivate multitudes of readers, young and old, in this country and worldwide, across the political spectrum. He helps us all to confront our demons—whether a dancing clown or a tweeting president.

PEN America is one of over 100 chapters of an international literary association organized to fight for the freedom to write.  In addition to the Service Award, it also offers Literary Awards for outstanding works in debut fiction, non-fiction, essays, translation, sports writing, science writing, biography, as well as an ‘open book’ category for any genre by writers of color.  The 2017 Jill Stein Book Award winner was The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between, Hisham Matar’s memoir about searching for the reasons behind his father’s mysterious disappearance.

Nor any drop to drink

So, if Mars was “wet”, where did the water go?  (And it may have been as much as 1/2 of the volume of Earth’s oceans.)  Ryan Mandelbaum on Gizmodo reports on a recent model of Martian hydrology published in Nature by a group of Oxford geophysicists (or areophysicists, perhaps).  In short, Mars has a higher percentage of iron in its interior than Earth  does, and iron really likes to lock up water, or at least the oxygen component in water (see the phenomenon of rust, which accounts for much of the color of the “red” planet).

You would think an iron-lined planet would be waterproof, but you would be wrong. Image: Jon Wade and James Moore.

The key comes from Mars having a denser crust and a cooler under-crust (the mantle) that would transfer more water to the interior and allow it to react with the iron, capturing the oxygen and moving it away from the surface.  This model needs to be tested against competing theories (like loss of water to space due to lower gravity and lack of a magnetic field to prevent atmospheric scouring by the Sun’s solar wind, or water locked up as sub-surface ice due to cooling from atmospheric changes).  The article quotes Tomohiro Usui of Tokyo Institute of Technology from his commentary in Nature: “Subsurface exploration will be required to test both the hydrated-crust and ground-ice theories, and therefore shed light on the evolution of Martian water inventory.”

Which is a very sophisticated way of saying, “Let’s go to Mars!”

The missus and the ex: Sarah Jane Smith

On, writer and Doctor Who podcaster (Verity!) Tansy Rayner Roberts has posted a long and loving look at the varied careers of Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, companion to the 3rd (Pertwee) and 4th (Baker) Doctors, as well as lead human character in the abortive spin-off K9 and Company and her own Sarah Jane Adventures.  Ending due to Ms. Sladen’s untimely death from cancer, The Sarah Jane Adventures helped fully establish her character as a “wonderful role model … a dynamic, older female action hero with brains”, Ms. Roberts avers.

Working mom, alien wrangler, conscience for 3 Doctors (#3, 4, 10). Who wouldn’t want to be Sarah Jane?

What makes Sarah Jane worthy of such respect is her devotion to not only saving Earth from misguided alien encounters, but also saving the misguided from the consequences of their actions instead of punishing them for it.  And all the while, maintaining her career as a well-paid journalist.  All in all, not bad for a character seemingly destined to be the side-kick of the tin dog.

And she lived, ever after

Tales both grimmer and lighter than the Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm seemed to like

Coming up on the dark time of the year, with the longest nights, the Beamers took a trip into the darker recesses of fairy tales and folklore with Tanith Lee’s collection of revised tales, Redder Than Blood.  Known for her wide-ranging interests and settings, Ms. Lee was one of the originators of the current fictional exercise of updating, inverting, and/or subverting the classic stories that provide Disney with so much family-friendly content.  Would the Beamers find her a light in the darkness or be waylaid on the way to Grandma’s house? Continue reading

The more things change, the more time travelers they attract

Hands-on research in the year of the Plague can be quite messy.

With the newly darkened evenings upon us, the Beamers looked back in time to the truly dark days of the Black Death (or “blue sickness”) as depicted in Connie Willis’s time travel novel, Doomsday Book, her piercing portrayal of the all-too-human tragedies that are so easily swept up in the great and momentous events of History.  Would the Beamers untangle themselves from the modern world long enough to find and feel for characters whose world is as remote as any Mars base?

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Digging up the dirt on … rabbits!

In 1974, BBC interviewer Robert Robinson unearthed the truth about Richard Adams’s lapine libido:

Perhaps the most interesting revelation is Mr. Adams recounting how the story of Watership Down started as a story to entertain his children during a drive to Stratford-on-Avon, making the rabbit reverie a mid-summer afternoon’s dream.

The Wizardess of Earthsea

A scene from Tales from Earthsea, the 2005 Japanese animated film based on Le Guin’s Earthsea series

For the Folio Society publication of The Wizard of Earthsea (2015), British novelist David Mitchell, best known for his Cloud Atlas interwoven speculative tale, offered a heartfelt appreciation of Ms. Le Guin’s compelling fantasy creation, the archipelago of Earthsea:

Earthsea is a fantasy world, and proud of it, mapped by its creator in 1966–7 on a large sheet of butcher’s paper with crayons in a house full of young children. Earthsea has magic, dragons, its own myths and prehistory; but its magic is weighted with metaphysics, its dragons are psychodragons of air and mind, more akin to dangerous Chinese sages than Tolkien’s Smaug; and Earthsea is so human a world – with trade-routes, local politics, class hierarchies, infant mortality, abuse, addiction and slavery – that its fantastical elements feel almost quotidian.

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